You Treat Employees Like Family? Uh-Oh

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Feb 12, 2018

When I hear the word family, beyond the mental images of my own, I can’t help but think of the Cleavers, the Bradys, the Cunninghams, and the Huxtables.

Growing up, I probably spent as much time hanging out with those families as I did my own. Television families of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s were characterized by kind and caring people that ate meals together, were respectful of authority figures, and who were always there to celebrate the accomplishments of each other, cheer for one another, and go to the extreme to help each other in times of trouble.

So yes, personally speaking, I’d be attracted to work for a company that advertised that it treated its employees like family.

But if you’re in the market for a younger demographic to join your ranks – anyone south of 40 – perhaps promoting a family workplace is not the best idea.

The mental images those jobseekers might conjure up of a family-like workplace would more likely resemble the Bundys, the Simpsons, the Sopranos, or the Pritchetts. (Hard to think of a TV family now that isn’t wrought with in-fighting, sarcasm, dysfunction and total disrespect for parents.)

Sadly, recent studies show that less than half of American families now eat dinner together fewer than three times per week.

It’s become a cliche

In times where sightings of functional families are as rare as leprechauns and unicorns, the number of companies that advertise “We treat employees like family” is at an all-time high. Maybe that’s because boomers and Gen X’ers cling to the fantasy that we’ll be taken care of by our employers the same way Ward and June Cleaver took care of Wally and “the Beav.” Conversely, managers want their employees to give them the same degree of honor and respect as Richie and Joanie gave to their parents, Howard and Marion.

But if you stop and consider your own family for a moment, you’re likely to think of some aspects that you’d rather not expose. There’s some degree of weirdness, and some bickering, and definitely some made-for-TV drama, right? Not that there’s not also some warmth and love and fun and smiles, too. But it ain’t exactly like the Brady Bunch, is it?

If yours is anything like mine, you wonder, If they knew the whole truth, would anyone volunteer to be a part of this family?”

So rather than aim for providing a family atmosphere to your workers and to jobseekers, what if you, instead, aim for – and promote – a culture where employees are treated and valued like friends. Not the faceless variety of friends we claim on our social media pages, but rather those who actually show up to take the other end of the couch on moving day, who celebrate our milestones, who hold us up to a higher standard and help us be the best version of ourselves, and those who really do have our backs 24/7.

And yes, some of those friends coincidentally happen to be people to whom we are also related. But that’s rapidly becoming more of the exception than the rule.

On Point: In a perpetual mission to attract the best talent to companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes, the term “family” has become cliché. It misses the target of what you aspire to be, and certainly what you want your employment brand to represent. Aim higher.

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